Luxembourg, ESA Enhance Cooperation on Asteroid Missions

PARIS (Luxembourg Government PR) — At the occasion of the 2017 Paris Air Show in Le Bourget, Luxembourg’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Economy Etienne Schneider visited the ESA pavilion and, together with ESA Director General, Jan Wörner, signed a joint statement on future activities concerning missions to the asteroids, related technologies and space resources exploration and utilisation.

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Video: NASA Accomplishments at Mid-Year

Video Caption: 2017 is shaping up to be another year of unprecedented exploration, amazing discoveries, technological advances and progress in development of future missions – and we’re just six months into the year. Here are some of our top stories of 2017, so far – Mid-Year at NASA!

NASA Shutting Down Asteroid Retrieval Mission

Artists concept of NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Robotic Mission capturing an asteroid boulder before redirecting it to an astronaut-accessible orbit around Earth’s moon. (Credit: NASA)

NASA is shutting down its Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM), an Obama-era program that Congress gave little love and even less month.

In a presentation at a June 13 meeting of the Small Bodies Assessment Group (SBAG) here, Michele Gates, program director for ARM at NASA Headquarters, said the mission received its “notice of defunding” from agency leadership in April, weeks after a budget blueprint document for fiscal year 2018 released by the White House called for cancelling the mission.

“We are in an orderly closeout phase, capturing all the good work that has been done across the team, and transitioning activities as appropriate to other potential missions or archived for future use,” she said.

ARM called for sending a robotic spacecraft to a near Earth asteroid, where it would grab a boulder a few meters across from the asteroid’s surface and return it to cislunar space. Astronauts flying on an Orion spacecraft would then visit the boulder, performing studies and collecting samples for return to Earth.

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B612 Foundation Forms Asteroid Institute

SILICON VALLEY, Calif. (B612 Foundation PR) — The B612 Foundation today announced the formation of a new science and technology institute dedicated to protecting Earth from asteroid impacts. Dr. Ed Lu, three time US astronaut and Co-founder of B612, will serve as Executive Director of the new B612 Asteroid Institute, collaborating with a team of planetary scientists and engineers from around the world to conduct research, technology development, and data analysis on asteroid detection and deflection.

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Planetary Resources Pivots Again

Well, it looks like our friends over at the asteroid mining firm Planetary Resources have pivoted once again.

You might recall that last June the company announced it had raised a Series A round of funding totaling $21.1 million for an Earth-observation project called Ceres. The constellation of satellites would monitor natural uses using the infrared and hyperspectral sensors.

In the five years since the company came out of stealth mode, it has pivoted from focusing on asteroid missions to remote sensing and now back to asteroid missions.

Foust didn’t report on the reason for the latest pivot. However, Planetary Resources main financial backer and partner is the government of Luxembourg, a postage-size country (as these things go) that doesn’t have a lot of use for natural resource monitoring, but is very interested in asteroid mining.

In November 2016, Luxembourg announced it was investing $28 million in Planetary Resources. The company also has set up an office in the European nation.

Foust did report that Lewicki, who is the company’s CEO, said two Arkyd-6 satellites are being readied for delivery in the next month for launch. The spacecraft will search for promising asteroids.

Lewicki also said the company plans to launch its first asteroid prospecting mission in the second half of 2020.

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NASA’s Asteroid-Hunting Spacecraft is a Discovery Machine

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — NASA’s Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE) mission has released its third year of survey data, with the spacecraft discovering 97 previously unknown celestial objects in the last year. Of those, 28 were near-Earth objects, 64 were main belt asteroids and five were comets.

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Planetary Resources Hires Lawyer

REDMOND, Wa., May 22, 2017 (Planetary Resources PR) – Planetary Resources, the asteroid mining company, announced today that it has named Brian Israel as General Counsel. Mr. Israel will oversee the legal, regulatory, and compliance functions for the company, its parent, and Planetary Resources Luxembourg. The company’s vision is to expand humanity’s economic sphere of influence into the Solar System by providing resources for people and products in space, with a near-term goal of identification, extraction, and refinement of water from near-Earth asteroids.

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China Considers Asteroid Retrieval Mission

Asteroid Itokawa (Credit: JAXA)

As NASA looks to jettison its asteroid retrieval mission, China is evaluating whether to conduct a mission of its own.

A senior government space scientist said China was considering mounting a mission to “capture” an asteroid and try to fire it into the moon’s orbit within a decade, state media reported.

The ultimate aim would be to mine the asteroid for metal and minerals, or use it as the base for a space station.

Ye Peijian, chief commander and designer of China’s lunar exploration programme, said at a meeting of space authorities in Beijing this week that the nation’s first batch of asteroid exploration spacecraft would probably be launched in about 2020, according to state media reports….

Many near-Earth asteroids contain a high concentrations of precious metals, Ye told the Science and Technology Daily, a newspaper run by China’s Ministry of Science and Technology.

NASA Receives 12 Proposals for Solar System Exploration Missions


WASHINGTON, DC (NASA PR) — NASA has received and is reviewing 12 proposals for future unmanned solar system exploration. The proposed missions of discovery – submitted under NASA’s New Frontiers program – will undergo scientific and technical review over the next seven months. The goal is to select a mission for flight in about two years, with launch in the mid-2020s.

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NIAC Projects Target Mars, Venus & Pluto

Pluto Hop, Skip, and Jump mission. (Credit: Benjamin Goldman)

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

An airship for Mars, two spacecraft capable of exploring the hellish environment of Venus, and a fusion-powered orbiter and lander for Pluto are three of the planetary-related research projects recently funded by theNASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program.

In all, NIAC funded eight advanced projects focused on Mars, Venus and Pluto in its latest annual funding round. The space agency also funded two proposals aimed at identifying and extracting resources on planets, moons and asteroids.
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NASA Selects Honeybee Robotics for Six Small Business Awards

The green oval highlights the plumes Hubble observed on Europa. The area also corresponds to a warm region on Europa’s surface. The map is based on observations by the Galileo spacecraft (Credits: NASA/ESA/STScI/USGS)

Honeybee Robotics will begin developing new technologies that would allow a lander to drill into the icy surface of Jupiter’s moon Europa and collect samples for analysis with the help of a pair of NASA small business awards.

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NIAC Awards Take Aim at Asteroid Mining, ISRU

Asteroid Itokawa (Credit: JAXA)

NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program recently awarded five grants for the development of new technologies for analyzing asteroids, extracting resources from them, and using the materials for new space products.

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Japan Plans Sample Return from Martian Moons

MMX on-orbit configuration (Credit: JAXA)

Japan is planning a complex mission that will study the moons of Mars and return soil samples to Earth.

Set for launch in September 2024, the Martian Moons Exploration (MMX) mission would spend three years exploring Phobos and Deimos before departing in August 2028 for a return to Earth 11 months later.

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NIAC Phase I Award: Dismantling Rubble Asteroids with Soft-bots

Dismantling Rubble Pile Asteroid with Area-of-Effect Soft-bots (Credit: Jay McMahon)

Dismantling Rubble Pile Asteroids with Area-of-Effect Soft-bots

Jay McMahon
University of Colorado, Boulder
Boulder, Colo.

Value: Approximately $125,000
Length of Study: 9 months

Description

This proposal seeks to develop a new type of soft robotic spacecraft which is specifically designed to move efficiently on the surface of, and in proximity to, rubble pile asteroids. These new spacecraft are termed Area-of-Effect Soft-bots (AoES) as they have large surface areas which enable mobility that is especially effective at small asteroids.

The surface mobility is enabled by using adhesion between the soft robot and the asteroid surface. The adhesive forces also allow the AoES to anchor themselves in order to liberate material from the asteroid and launch it off the surface for collection by an orbiting resource processing spacecraft – forming the fundamental pieces of a resource utilization mission to a near-Earth asteroid (NEA). Furthermore, the large area necessary for the adhesion based mobility and anchoring also gives the AoES a relatively high area-to-mass ratio, enabling fuel-free orbit control using solar radiation pressure (SRP) forces.

In total, this concept elegantly overcomes many of the difficulties typically encountered when trying to design a mission to retrieve a significant amount of material from an asteroid surface – in many cases using these perceived difficulties (e.g. microgravity, fast spin rates) to the advantage of the architecture.

Development of AoES in order to make this mission architecture feasible therefore has the potential to drastically improve the capabilities of harvesting water and other resources from the variety of small, plentiful, easily accessible NEAs – enabling further exploration and economic profit in the solar system.

Full List of 2017 NIAC Awards

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NIAC Phase I Award: Breakthrough Asteroid Survey Telescope

Sutter: Breakthrough Telescope Innovation for Asteroid Survey Missions to Start a Gold Rush in Space (Credit: Joel Sercel)

Sutter: Breakthrough Telescope Innovation for Asteroid Survey Missions to Start a Gold Rush in Space

Joel Sercel
TransAstra
Lake View Terrace, Cailf.

Value: Approximately $125,000
Length of Study: 9 months

Description

PROBLEM: These are three primary reasons why it is important for NASA to develop better ways to locate and characterize Near Earth Objects (NEOs). First, NEOs are an impact hazard to the Earth and Congress has mandated that NASA find 90% of all the objects over 140 meters by the end of 2020. NASA will fail to meet this mandate because of the high cost of current asteroid survey approaches.

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